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TidBITS Delivery Restarted for iCloud, Yahoo, and AOL Subscribers

Do you use an AOL, Yahoo, or iCloud (mac.com, me.com, or icloud.com) email address? If so, and if you subscribed to the email edition of TidBITS at some point in the past but stopped receiving issues along the way, my sincere apologies. Recently, while tracking down a problem that caused significant email deliverability problems for comcast.net addresses (“Comcast Email Delivery Restarted for TidBITS Subscribers,” 3 November 2014), I realized that thousands of subscribers from AOL, iCloud, and Yahoo had also bounced due to inaccurate spam filtering on the part of those email providers. The iCloud bounces happened in the past few weeks, but the AOL and Yahoo bounces took place sometime earlier. (Note that Yahoo manages email for a number of other domains, many associated with AT&T and the Baby Bells, so this applies to you if your address is at sbcglobal.net, bellsouth.net, att.net, pacbell.net, ameritech.net, swbell.net, and even the Canadian provider rogers.com.)

I have now restarted email delivery for everyone in these domains, so if this is the first issue of TidBITS you’ve received in a while, welcome back, and I’m tremendously sorry for the deliverability problems! If you’d like, you can resend issues to yourself manually, which is also a great way to test if your email provider is blocking TidBITS for some reason. For details, read “Resend TidBITS Issues to Yourself” (8 March 2013).

You can also check on the status of your subscription and restart delivery manually in the event of bounces by logging in to your account. That page also lets you change your name, email address, password, and more.

Of course, if you’ve already resubscribed to TidBITS from another email address, or if you’re no longer interested in Apple-related news and products, unsubscribing is simple. Just scroll to the very bottom of the message and click the Unsubscribe link there.

How Did This Happen? -- We’ve been distributing TidBITS via email since 1990, with the technology underlying the list changing a number of times. We currently use a homegrown system that ties in with the overarching account database that also tracks everyone who buys Take Control books, so sending email, whether for TidBITS or Take Control, is a matter of building a list on the fly from a database query.

Because we’ve been doing this for so long, and for the most part successfully, I’ve been lax in keeping up with the latest in the email deliverability world. Or, rather, I was until earlier this year, when I buckled down, implemented technologies like SPF and DKIM, and started signing up for feedback loops that alert me when a subscriber at a major email provider marks one of our mailings as spam instead of unsubscribing.

(Marking a legitimate, if unwanted, message as spam is unfortunately common, but please don’t do it, because it hurts the reputation of the sender for no reason, and that in turn can hurt email deliverability to other users in your domain. To get off a list you subscribed to, always use the unsubscribe link, usually available at the bottom of a message.)

One aspect of our system that’s not ideal, in retrospect, is that the primary reporting it provides is the number of active users sent to each week. In the past, I’ve often gone weeks or months without checking it, since it normally isn’t particularly interesting. Losing 750 Comcast subscribers was noticeable, and the loss of another few thousand iCloud subscribers on 27 October 2014 also got my attention. Unfortunately, the URL in the bounced messages that purported to explain the problem showed that there was no problem, and email to postmaster@mac.com is bouncing.

I’ll be keeping a closer eye on both subscription numbers and the bounce logs in the future, and if you notice problems, please let me know and complain to your ISP or email provider.

 

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Comments about TidBITS Delivery Restarted for iCloud, Yahoo, and AOL Subscribers
(Comments are closed.)

Nicholas Barnard  2014-11-10 20:48
I wonder if perhaps its time to hand this side of the business off to AWS SES or something similar? Managing email issues now adays seems to require relationships..

I've seen quite a few times a virtual host is used for spam, so I can understand when email providers get leery of those ranges.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-11-11 09:34
I am contemplating that. Amazon SES can be used as the outgoing SMTP server, so we could just point our server at theirs and see what happened. I'm not entirely certain how it would integrate with the rest of our infrastructure, since we do have to receive and process incoming mail as well. And of course, there's a cost - Amazon SES is cheap, but we do send a lot of mail.
In the past (months ago) when my TidBits letters were stopped, I tried to get them restarted without success. Thank you, Adam for finaly fixing this problem!
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-11-11 09:38
You're welcome. I'm guessing your last issue was February 24th, since when I started going back through the logs, that was the day I saw a lot of Yahoo addresses bounce. Who knows what it was about that issue that set it off, or if they were just fiddling with more restrictive spam settings day. :-(
Anonymous  2014-11-11 10:08
I was wondering to where TidBITS had traveled. Pleasure to have back and 'ain't' tech wonderful. Looking forward to getting back on track with the great articles and info. Thanks, Adam.
Steven J Gold  2014-11-11 21:19
This may be related: I use FastMail (a well-known respected mail provider) for one of my email accounts and about the same timeframe you report having problems, something happened. I suddenly began getting 90+% of my legitimate incoming email marked as SPAM, and many SPAM emails identified as legit. Even setting the spam-filtering level to a minimum where only senders listed in global backlists would be flagged didn't help/ No explanation from them and a few weeks ago the issue went away.
I wonder if there was some kind of issue with the global blacklists almost all of the major email services use? Since Apple, Yahoo, AOL, and Comcast all use the same global lists, if those databases got corrupted that would explain what we experienced?
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-11-12 08:38
It's conceivable, but there's no way to know what filtering technologies or databases are in play at different providers. They simply don't share that information.

FastMail didn't have any problems for us that I can see. We have 33 subscribers at FastMail right now, and only 1 is bouncing, which seems entirely legitimate.
Really only 33? Did you count all their domains?

https://www.fastmail.fm/help/legal/ourdomains.html

There used to be one other problem. I haven't been able to take full editions of TidBITS at my work email address, they are bounced and then I fall off your mailings for it. They don't even get to appear in the facility I have for reviewing and accepting possible spam - they are rejected ahead of this very limited (to me) control. TidBITS articles come through unfailingly reliably. Would any of the changes be likely to improve the former? I'll have a go at re-enabling the mailing if so.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-11-14 11:39
I didn't know they had so many! But I'd still be surprised if the number was notably higher.

I totally can't imagine why our issues would be rejected when the articles get through unless the raw size is somehow a flag as well. Using the resend utility might shed some light on it, or let you show support people how they're deleting legitimate mail.
Chester  2014-11-11 22:02
Add my thanks to the torrent -Glad you're still with us.

I still have functional older macs & hardware - your articles have helped a lot over the years.

Happy holidays !
Duane Williams  2014-11-11 23:42
Any email I get from someone I don't know and that I don't want is spam and I will always mark it as such. If that results in the sender being blocked from successfully sending to others, I'm sorry, but that is a bug I'm not responsible for.

My time is too valuable to be spent in trying to take myself off a list I never requested to be on in the first place. I get way more spam than legitimate email and I'm sure that others do too.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-11-12 08:46
If it's mail from a company you have no relationship with and you don't want it, that's spam and you absolutely should report it as such. I do all the time, even when the company is nominally legit, just using problematic marketing techniques.

If it's mail from a person you don't know but who knows you, and it's personal mail, not unsolicited commercial mail, it's not spam, regardless of whether you want it or not. Reporting that as spam is like calling the cops on a new neighbor who knocked on your door to ask for a cup of sugar because you don't know them. (Wow, that cup of sugar example feels really old!)

If it's mail from a company you signed up with, even if you don't want it, it's NOT spam. That's the big reporting problem. People think of marking mail as spam as like unsubscribing. It's not.

I'm very sorry to hear that you're getting more spam than legitimate mail - I suspect that means that (a) you're not using appropriate spam filtering technologies in your mail client or (b) you should switch to a different email provider, like Gmail, that does better spam filtering. Or, I suppose, (c) that you get almost no legitimate mail, so the proportion is out of whack.

My email address is tremendously well known, and thus I get tons of spam. Right now there are 2200 messages in my Gmail spam folder, accounting for the last 30 days. And that's after some really egregious spam is blocked at my server by SpamAssassin. But I see maybe 1 to 3 spam messages per day, far far less than the amount of real mail I get per day.
Scott Horton  2014-11-19 15:41
I wonder if this is what has happened to me at metrocast.net? I contacted their tech support today and this is their reply. "You will have to call in and have the ip address thats being blocked. You can reach us 24 hours at 1-800-952-1001."
If you provide me with the proper IP address I can call them back and see if that is the problem.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-11-20 09:02
Could be - here's the IP address of our mail server:

173.255.250.214